I’ve been exercising my memory for the past 6 months by memorizing Shakespeare soliloquies, mainly the famous ones. It all started with a short passage from Hamlet. I remember the day I had just learned it – it wasn’t easy – and I still had to practice it all the time.
So. I was in line at the grocery store, a Fresh Market near my house, and the lady in front of me turned around and apologized for having so many items in her cart. I promise I wasn’t counting. I said, “No problem. Take your time. I’m rehearsing in my head a famous literary passage I just learned.”
The man who was ringing up her items stopped and looked at me with an expression of appreciation, almost of deep brotherhood, and said,
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote.
Well. That was unexpected at a grocery store checkout counter. But, it was the slow line. So, the clerk went on for a few more seconds of recitation and then stopped and looked at me with a big smile, and I just had to say,
And smale fowles maken melodye, That slepen al the night with open ye.
The guy looked really surprised and said, “You KNOW that?” I said, “Yeah, Chaucer, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Good job.” And a lady behind me gave me a look that “perced to the roote” because I think her ice cream was melting through all this.
Just two days later, I’m in a Harris Teeter, and the young lady checking out my groceries said something to me that I didn’t catch. I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. I was practicing a passage from Hamlet in my head.”
She said, “Oh! Really? I memorized Hamlet once.”
I said, “You mean you memorized a passage from Hamlet?”
She said, “No, the whole thing.”
“The whole thing? The whole play?”
“Yeah,” she said, “But not in English.”
“What do you mean, not in English? It’s an English play.”
“Yeah, I know, but I memorized it in Klingon.”
“The Star Trek Language?”
“Yeah, it was more fun that way. But it took, like, four months.”
And then, last week, a different grocery store cashier spontaneously performed a Shakespeare Sonnet for me. I mean, it was Senior Discount Day at the store, so I think she took off a few lines. But it was most of Sonnet 116. In case you’re interested.
Maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house. Strange things happen.
But I came away from these recent conversations with a new realization – and not just about where our English majors are getting jobs these days – the market for literature grads is surprisingly fresh.
My realization was, that we’re surrounded by exceptional people in the world. They’re all around us. And that’s easy to forget. But when we break through the background hum of habit, poke a hole in the ordinary, and really talk to people, and give them a chance, they can sometimes shine in unexpected ways. And then, we learn.
Break through that background hum today, in some way. Poke your own little hole in the ordinary, and see what you discover.